Gender Neutral Parenting Doesn’t Mean What You Think it Does
There’s a growing movement among parents of newborns to raise their children in a gender-neutral way. Think painting the nursery green instead of pink or blue, or naming them Bailey instead of Jack or Jane. But gender-neutral parenting goes far beyond sticking to the middle of gender lines. There’s a certain psychology behind shielding children from gender bias.
For parents or people on the outside looking in, the idea of gender-neutral parenting can seem bizarre or even ridiculous. But it’s important to realize this parenting style has less to do with engraining gender in a child and more to do with letting a child discover the world for themselves.
For example, take the old stereotype that boys play with trucks and girls play with dolls. This is part of a gendered upbringing. Traditionally, you wouldn’t give a little boy a doll and a little girl a toy truck. Gender-neutral parenting asks “why not?” Who says a little boy won’t love playing with dolls and grow up to be a fashion designer? What’s keeping a little girl from playing with trucks and growing up to be a rig operator? Gender-neutral parenting takes out these biases to let a child figure out what they like and how they’ll develop sans traditional barriers.
People against gender-neutral parenting argue that it has psychologically damaging effects on a child. But the fact is, it very likely has the opposite. In a recent article on Parents, clinical psychologists weighed in to show the overwhelmingly positive effects of gender-neutral parenting. Examples include broader interest in STEM learning by girls and improved emotional communication in boys. More to-the-point in dispelling misconceptions, gender-neutral parenting has little-to-no correlation with how children sexually identify into maturity—meaning their upbringing had no impact on sexual identification or attraction.
Simply put, there’s evidence that gender-neutral parenting opens doors for kids and helps give them a well-rounded upbringing that might be hard-pressed to get with traditional gender norms in place.
Think of gender-neutral parenting as constructive, not destructive. Instead of saying “you can’t play with dolls because you’re a boy” or “girls don’t play with trucks,” you’re saying “you can play with any toy you want.” This theory goes well beyond toys, too.
There are degrees of gender-neutral parenting. Some parents gently parent, letting children choose their toys; others let their children pick their clothes or use non-gendered pronouns when addressing them. It’s up to each parent to determine the gendered norms their child is exposed to.
Too many people mistake gender-neutral parenting for indoctrination. “You’re confusing them” or “you’re teaching them to grow up to be gay or transgendered.” These are common outcries of people who don’t truly understand the role of downplaying gender. Parents choosing this method aren’t teaching their child to do anything or be anything—rather, the opposite. They’re encouraging their child to develop a construct of themselves without forcing them to conform to gender stereotypes.
It has nothing to do with sex or sexuality. It has everything to do with imbuing them with the confidence to be who they are and grow up to be someone they’re comfortable being—whether it’s a male fashion designer or a girl who plays with trucks.